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For more risk-averse candidates, the two parties are creating elaborate lists of voting-age adults and cross-referencing them with consumer and demographic information, all with an eye toward sending out the most tailored communications possible. "No one under 35 wants to hear the same message about Social Security as someone over 65," says Crawford, "and there's no reason why they have to. On one issue, you can make four or five ads targeting entirely different groups. It's cheap because you don't have to pay for airtime, and because I don't need to book a studio"--Crawford edits everything on her Mac and does her own voice-overs--"it's rapid response. I can turn it around in 24 hours." The Democratic National Committee plans to use its list to make a series of inductive leaps. "If you know what magazines a 40-year-old female voter subscribes to or what websites she reads," says a former DNC consultant, "you can apply that to things like Google AdSense"--which generates increasingly specific ads as it monitors how a user clicks through a website. "When someone types in the words schools or Oprah, your education plan--targeted for moms--will be right there. You're still fishing, but at least you're fishing with the right bait." Candidates will also infiltrate every trusted message board and blog that they possibly can. "That's just a given," says Trippi.
For all the efficiencies of the Internet, Bush strategist Dowd thinks the Web has its limits. "Our research shows it's great for driving partisan activity and fund raising," says Dowd, "but less effective at persuasion in a political sense. That's why we're really pushing this idea of what I call navigators." In 2004 the G.O.P. mined its database to identify 10,000 African-American "team leaders" who, in exchange for VIP treatment, like getting to shake hands with the President in front of Air Force One, would voluntarily talk up Republican policies to their friends. "It's one of the reasons I think we doubled our support in Ohio among African Americans," says Mehlman. "Rather than running a television ad, we had thousands of feet on the street. If a fellow member of your PTA tells you that George Bush cares about education, that has credibility that a paid canvasser or an ad will never have. You'll see a lot more of that in '08."
Overall, the death of the October ad blitz should make for a more meaningful campaign. "All of this allows politicians to come to voters in ways that are more germane to their lives," says the NDN's Rosenberg. "They'll need to raise less money to reach them, and they'll pay more attention when they do. It's great for democracy." Even if it's bad for Wheel of Fortune.